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Ratten runs hot, Hird goes cold

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A big weekend of AFL upsets

Our footy experts analyse the clash between St Kilda and Essendon, and Carlton's big win over Collingwood.

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DO COACHES make teams or teams make coaches? It's a perennial football question, one at times that is almost impossible to answer, but one worth pondering again after two crucial and surprising results over round 15.

It was a poor night in the box for James Hird and Mark Thompson, and the next few weeks might prove equally as testing, with the Bombers' run home tough to say the least. 

On Friday night, Carlton's Brett Ratten went from popular whipping boy to hero with the Blues' sizeable fan base with their 23-point win over Collingwood. The greater intent of Ratten's side than in its insipid loss to Hawthorn was clearly a major factor. But so were a couple of shrewd coaching and selection moves.

Grey area: Bomber coach James Hird was caught out by several of the Saints' moves.

Grey area: Bomber coach James Hird was caught out by several of the Saints' moves. Photo: Getty Images

Ratten bit the bullet and gave one of the three ruckmen, Robbie Warnock, the heave-ho. That might have blown up in his face once Shaun Hampson went down, but it proved just the challenge Matthew Kreuzer required, and he responded in the fashion Ratten had predicted all week he would.

The biggest masterstroke was the use of regular backmen Nick Duigan and Dennis Armfield as defensive forwards, the pair not only thwarting Collingwood's trademark rebound, but conjuring five scoring shots and three goals to Duigan.

On Saturday night, Essendon was spanked by a very switched-on St Kilda, the steely focus of the Saints compared to their lacklustre opponent apparent very early. The Bombers had poor players everywhere. But there's an argument they got a pretty ordinary performance from the coaching box as well.

Perhaps no amount of tactical genius would have saved Essendon. But a series of questionable moves, starting at the selection table, didn't seem to help its cause.

With Stewart Crameri out suspended, and St Kilda having lost Jason Blake and Rhys Stanley, the Bombers could have loaded up with height. Having seen the way North Melbourne ran rings around the Saints, they could have opted for a full-on pace assault. In reality, they did neither, no obvious replacement for Crameri picked, and promising small man Corey Dell'Olio dumped, and Travis Colyer still cooling his heels.

Once the game started, Essendon was clearly caught on the hop, St Kilda's coaching smarts coming through in Scott Watters sending Nick Dal Santo to Jobe Watson, which might have been considered a possibility, and Leigh Montagna to Brent Stanton, which clearly no one outside the St Kilda camp had counted on.

Bomber Heath Hocking continued to try to take Dal Santo, the resultant two-on-one giving the Saints the midfield edge, as did Watson starting outside the centre square, which lost all the early drive that had won it last week's game against the Western Bulldogs by quarter-time.

The list of questionable calls grew, as did the the size of St Kilda's lead. David Myers, who has had a career-best run of form in midfield, found himself again stuck, ill-suited, in defence. Michael Hurley, struggling with his hamstrings from the start, got some help from emerging key defender Jake Carlisle.

But that failed on three fronts. Hurley's "string" eventually gave way, a likely month-long absence the result, Carlisle failed to have an impact up forward, and his absence from defence threw out what has been a settled backline.

Dustin Fletcher not allowed to play his usual marshalling role, continually being dragged up the ground as Cale Hooker struggled to cope with Nick Riewoldt.

Nathan Lovett-Murray has been an effective substitute for Essendon. As a four-quarter player against the Saints he was found wanting for impact or stamina.

This week's wearer of the red vest, Ricky Dyson, was also unable to make an impression.

It was a poor night in the box for James Hird and Mark Thompson, and the next few weeks might prove equally as testing, with the Bombers' run home tough to say the least.

Hurley, Crameri and the certain-to-be-suspended Hocking will be key absentees this week, and replacements have to be found with more discretion than seemed the case against the Saints.

These are the sorts of coaching decisions made each week. Most pass with little notice. Except when, like Ratten, you're under so much heat a mere show of animation in the box or bench, let alone a positional switch, is portrayed as some sort of definitive proof you lack the necessary coaching chops.

So credit to him for staring down the mob, pulling a little inspiration from the kitbag, and extracting from his team a victory that not only might have saved his bacon, but turned his team's season around.

Credit, too, to St Kilda's Watters, fast building a reputation, even in his first season, as one of the AFL's more shrewd string-pullers, and his side defying the widespread predictions of its immediate demise.

Essendon's tandem of a couple of the club's greatest names has already achieved plenty and has the Bombers on the right track.

But even a coaching "dream team" can occasionally have a nightmare.


  • Spot on Rohan! The disparity in effort and intensity at the ball aside, Essendon was significantly outcoached by Watters. They executed the 'blueprint' to beat the Bombers beautifully. The 'blueprint' is (and was executed well by Melbourne and Sydney resulting in their wins against the Bombers) quite simple - crowd the Essendon forward line, play 'man-on-man' when not in possession and drag your opponent into the corridor so as to reduce the space for the Essendon midfield. As a result you have your own forward line open which is actually something the Essendon defence struggles with - especially Hooker and Myers who have questionable disposal by foot and need a nearby teammate to handball off to. The Bombers set up their forward forays from the D50, with runners setting up behind the ball carrier about 20-30m out from the defensive goal, and therefore can't do so when most of the players are forward of the ball.

    This is a Bombers fan speaking here - the Dons are still too predictable and will remain pretenders until they can break the shackles of an old-fashioned 'flood'. With such a tough draw to come, I wont be that surprised if the Dons only scrape together just a couple more wins and actually miss out on the finals.

    Date and time
    July 09, 2012, 12:19AM
    • Good summary RC, and good response too DJCJ. Maybe the bombers should get you on their coaching staff? Hird's the problem I think, and I understand he's not one to take much heed from others. The player list however is workable.

      Date and time
      July 09, 2012, 10:04AM
    • DJCJ your observations are pretty obvious and don't take into account the subtleties of the game. If coaching & tactics was as simple as you clearly think it is the Bombers wouldn't be 10-4 and would have lost far more games this year.
      Essendon's strength this year and improvement have stemmed from an increased focus on defence, and defensive intensity was lacking on Saturday night - except from the Saints. They were beaten in tackles and contested possessions and the defensive transition was not there - all psychological factors. It has nothing to do with an inability to cope with a 'flood'. Even if the ball is turned over in a choked forward 50 the opposition still needs to get the ball downfield to score.
      Don't give up your day job.

      See Clearly
      Date and time
      July 09, 2012, 10:58AM
    • I stand by my comments 101% Sydneysider - and you obviously chose to ignore my first sentence as well. The Bombers simply cannot set up scoring opportunities in a crowded forward line. Against the Dogs they lost the contested possesion count and won by 84 pts! Watch the 'transition' as the mids try to hit up an option - Heppell, Myers, Melksham, even Stanton - all key offenders on Sat night, (as in the Syd and Melb games) where as they carry the ball through the centre square they don't have a running option coming up from behind them especially on the centre-side of the ground, because their teammates are manning up their opponents who have crowded the F50. The minutes leading up to that Riewoldt goal in the mid of 3rdQ is a perfect example.

      Collingwood are experts at holding onto the ball when their F50 is crowded, and allow time for their teammates to clear out their F50 by leading to the flanks or dropping back to the goal square - leaving a hole 30-40m out for forwards to lead into. Hawks and Eagles also are very good at this too. The Dons don't seem able to do it - they don't spread far enough, and end up with dinky ring-a-rosy chipping that is ripe for a turnover OR its a long bomb in the off chance that a Bombers player takes a contested mark amongst 5 or 6 others!

      Date and time
      July 09, 2012, 1:52PM
    • @DCDJ - saw the game, and your observations are spot on. Taking away the corrodor completely flummoxed the Bombers, and they had no comeback.

      @ See Clearly of Sydney - you accuse DCDJ of ignoring the subtleties of the game, yet all you can offer is the same, tired, obvious (and very unsubtle) NON-insights of "more defensive intensity and pressure". If you keep using these well worn phrases, maybe YOU SHOULD give up YOUR day job, and join the Sports Cliche Editorial team at the Herald Sun. (And by the way, you left out the words "accountability", "intensity", "in-and-under" and "Plan B" - make sure you include these next time to truly complete your contributions.

      Impartial Fan
      Date and time
      July 09, 2012, 3:47PM
  • We had a shocker from Thursday night where we didn't pick a tall to cover a tall, to making Ricky D Sub and playing NatRat 4 quarters, to the bizarre image of Watto running OUTSIDE the square instead of being in it. Shocking "performance" from the Head down; in all aspects'coaching, attitude, selection, desire the works.......and MORE bloody soft tissue injuries.
    Plus Riemo might find himself as TB after passing to Davey surrounded by 3 tall defenders instead of doing what he is paid to do - kick goals. Just doesn't think it through.


    Date and time
    July 09, 2012, 6:50AM
    • Phil, the real shocker was the Bombers new clash strip - the lads looked like they were playing in their PJs.

      Date and time
      July 09, 2012, 9:01AM
    • Spot on Phil - Riemers clear inside 50 with a great look at goal and tried to pass to Davey was a shocking error of judgement. I grimace every time players try to pass to Davey on a lead - he's one of the shortest players in the competition! Kyle probably signed the death warrant on his career at the club with that performance.

      See Clearly
      Date and time
      July 09, 2012, 11:00AM
    • @crowin' - yes this is the real reason for poor games, these lousy alternate strips. I'm a Blues supporter and our games in "baby blue" are always rubbish, wonder why they did away with a perfectly good white "away" strip?

      Date and time
      July 09, 2012, 1:13PM
  • Bit early calling all this aren;t we? One win for Carlton or one loss for the bombers hardly proves anything.

    the Bush
    Date and time
    July 09, 2012, 7:44AM

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